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Epidemic of Disconnection

January 28, 2011

A phrase that Bob Woodward coined was the phrase of the day on Oprah’s show recently when she highlighted military families. Epidemic of Disconnection – referring to the detachment we all see everyday. A disconnect between the 1% who are the military families, service members; and the other 99% of the country.

The saying “one percent are fighting the wars, the rest of the country is in the mall”, – we’ve all heard this, right? The slapping a support the troops yellow ribbon magnet on the back of the SUV being the sum total of someone’s “support”; or the fascination by the TV reporters showing the latest reunion surprise by a returning service member; or the intrusive camera shots of a deployment ceremony.

There is a push to bring the real (no, the REAL) lives of military families into the mainstream discourse. Oprah spent an entire show talking about that; Mrs. Obama was on GMA talking about it; and we are all wondering, is this just another flag waving blip on the radar?

I watched the Oprah show, and while I was impressed that she didn’t spend time showing the hugging kissing reunions, I was left wondering. I was grateful that when Tom Brokaw introduced the Brest family, and talked about what life has been like for Jenny Brest since Corey was wounded, it wasn’t the “oh you poor thing”, nor was it the saintly can do no wrong – it was a look at the truth – the love and caring, and how she deals with his wounds, the constant care and therapy, the wreckage of his dreams, the good friends who stayed with them and those who don’t come around anymore.

I was grateful when Bob Woodward introduced the GoldStar Mom – the woman who drives 6 hours to see her son at Section 60, Arlington National Cemetery, because too often the parents are not acknowledged (as a former Blue Star Mom, I remember!) I don’t think there was a dry eye when Bob Woodward told the audience that every time Mrs. Arciola calls, she asks him “did they start another row” [in Section 60] and he has to tell her – another one every week.

I appreciated the Blackmore family, who talked about the day to day life of the military family. As Carmen Blackmore said – she wears a lot of hats, as a periodic single mom. Mrs. Obama reminded everyone that Carmen doesn’t just hold her family together, she also volunteers for other families, with her FRG. The Blackmores also discussed the reintegration process – that it’s not just riding off into the sunset!

That was wonderful. Watching the service members cheering and applauding Mrs. Obama, and each other, was fantastic. But the disconnect, ah the disconnect. When Mrs. Obama was talking about Blue Star and Gold Star families, and Oprah asked what that meant – I have to say I was surprised. But when Oprah said that she hadn’t EVER been to Arlington National Cemetery – when she’s been to DC so many times – I was even more surprised. As Oprah pointed out, more than once, she has no contact with anyone in the military, no member of her family is serving, she doesn’t know anyone who is either in the military or has such a connection. THAT’s the point.. our families are existing in “their own war” – as Woodward said. We are in our own world and we have historically been self sufficient; as Mrs. Obama pointed out, it’s the military way- we just do it, we don’t rely on others. The rest of the country, unless they have someone they know in the military, have very little idea of what is going on or what military families need.

What can civilians do to help military families? There are so many groups to join; Blue Star Families; USO; Red Cross; local groups at the American Legion and other organizations. Woodward and Brokaw both talked about the small things that can be done, without asking. Can you shovel a driveway, bring over a meal? If you are a teacher or principal, do you know which child is in a family going through deployment or reintegration? If you have a church affiliation, do you know if there is a military family there? Oprah’s show can, we hope, be an introduction for her huge audience to what military families are, the real families; and what the rest of the country can do to support the families, the wounded and the veterans.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Michelle permalink
    January 28, 2011 9:51 am

    There is this disconnect. The “I will do everything to support our military” means supporting their families at home, because by and large, our guys are being taken care of, and have what they need (and what the don’t have we send them). But what we need is for our families to be taken care of. The shoveling of snow – ah – close to my heart. All these people who say “we’ll support you!” and then wave to me as I’m digging out of yet another 12″ of snow.

    Luckily, I have one friend who faithfully has been sending her husband to my house every snow storm. Unasked. She just sends him. Out of all my friends, out of all my family, one friend lends me her husband. I said to her one day, “thanks for sparing your husband, I know you have tons of your own snow to deal with.” she responded, “you lend us your husband for a whole year. A few hours is the least we could do. ”

    I don’t want it to sound like the military families expect anything. I think we don’t…righ? We just suck it up and do it, that’s our nature. To not ask for help. But every once in a while it really really really is nice when someone just does. They don’t ask. They just do.

    • January 28, 2011 10:56 am

      Michelle – your friend is a true gem. Lending you her husband for the snow and the little things that we just need another set of hands for is priceless. THIS is what we need to get through to people. These are the things we need. A “hey, I’m heading to the store, can I get you anything”; a “hey, I’m taking the kids to the park, want me to take yours so you can get a couple hours to do something for yourself”; a “we’re having a pizza party and watch all the whatever series… want to come”… THAT level of support is so so crucial. And with that, grows the awareness, grows the circle of friends and supporters that understand what it really means to support a military family.

      • Michelle permalink
        January 28, 2011 1:49 pm

        precisely – call up a mil spouse and say “hey, I’m sure your car needs an oil change, I’d be happy to bring it in today”. Most of us (women) walk this line because we are competent, and we are secure, and we can do most of these things for ourselves. We’re not shrinking violets. But I have one wife in our unit, just gave birth over christmas, has a 3 year old and has very few people offering her any sort of help. I have plenty of single mom friends who don’t get it – they say “we do this all the time”. Yes. I know. Kudos. But most of us milspouses aren’t prepared for single parenthood. I know in our family jobs are lined up – he does the yard, I do the inside (yes, very donna reed). but if the roof leaks…that’s his territory and I fumble around.

        I have suggested starting a program at least among the national guard units. Since most of us are physically not local to each other, we’d pair up non-deployed soldiers from the same local area with families of deployed soldiers. I would certainly lend my husband out for another soldier’s family. I know many non-deployed soldiers would do the same. It’s just a matter of pairing them up.

        • libarmywife permalink
          January 28, 2011 1:53 pm

          I agree, great plan!!

  2. January 28, 2011 10:26 am

    I completely agree with you about the surprise in the level of ignorance of Oprah. I was shocked when she asked what a “Blue Star Family” was. I said to myself, Oprah, are you really that ignorant? I thought EVERYONE knew what that was. Because it dates back decades.

    I was happy to see Oprah and the First Lady highlight the stories of soldiers, wives, mothers, wounded, families… but one episode isn’t enough. There needs to be more. The same amount of attention that was placed with 4 days of shows about her trip to Australia needs to be paid to the military, the soldiers and their families. It’s not enough for one hour of TV. MORE people need to start talking about it… and not just Oprah.

    • January 28, 2011 10:57 am

      I did see (and I detest morning shows) that Mrs. Obama was also on GMA, talking about military families and support. As you said, we need a lot more people doing it.

  3. January 28, 2011 9:42 pm

    I have to say I am really blessed to have an amazing neighbor who shovels the walk behind my property every time it snows. He saves me additional backbreaking labor, a ticket from the city, and it makes me feel really loved.
    I am deeply concerned about the disconnect, but I think part of the problem is that we allow the majority of the mainstream media to portray us as non-contributors in society or only as volunteers, mothers, “waiters”. We are far more than that and we need to change the game on them.
    After talking to TV producers and reporters this week, all they want is a better story. If we are willing to bring them a better story, they will run with it. We need to be our own advocates, so that in between Oprah moment’s service members and their families aren’t forgotten.

  4. February 6, 2011 4:03 pm

    I agree with the disconnect. I am lucky to have a fantastic neighbor! She takes my kids and her son to the bus stop more often then not. I try to be the one to give the ride, but with having a baby sometimes (okay most of the time!) I’m running late or he’s still sleeping. She once said that she forgets I’m over here alone. I know she doesn’t mean anything bad, but yeah.

    I’m not in a military town too so when people find out my husband is in the Navy and gone, they ask when he gets to come back from the Middle East. People also don’t realize that the Navy goes on regular deployments, so the few I’ve told have been surprised.

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